The United States has considerably higher unplanned pregnancy rates than many other developed countries; in fact, almost half U.S. pregnancies are considered mistimed or unwanted. But what are the causes of unplanned pregnancy? How do you accidentally get pregnant when there are many ways to prevent an unplanned pregnancy?

The reasons for unplanned pregnancy can be attributed to three main factors: a lack of knowledge about sex and pregnancy, a failure to use contraception, or the use of a contraceptive that failed.

Fortunately, individuals, parents, and educators can all have an impact in informing others about the causes of unwanted pregnancy and, therefore, avoiding unintended pregnancies.

Here, you will find the common causes of unwanted pregnancy, the misconceptions that surround them, and the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy.

Lack of Education

Although public health education has improved slowly over the years, it still leaves gaps in the knowledge of young people. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the education that young people do receive in schools focuses far more on abstinence than safe sex¸ meaning that sexually active youth frequently don’t receive formal education about the more intimate causes of unplanned pregnancies  —  and, therefore, how they can properly prevent such unwanted pregnancies.

This is why women with no high school degree have the highest unintended pregnancy rate among all educational levels. With no prior knowledge of how people accidentally get pregnant and how to avoid those circumstances, these women frequently find themselves pregnant.

Although sex education can be lacking at school, this kind of education can fortunately be initiated at home. Parents should be open to answering their children’s questions in an age-appropriate manner, which will help them to avoid misconceptions such as the ones below:

Myth: “I can’t get pregnant if I’m on my period.”

Fact: While it may be less likely to become pregnant during menstruation, it is not impossible or even uncommon. If people do not receive proper sex education, it can lead them to make misinformed decisions that put them at risk for unplanned pregnancy by having unprotected sex on their period — one of the common reasons for unplanned pregnancy.

Myth: “If I shower after sex, I won’t get pregnant.”

Fact: This is just one example of many pregnancy misconceptions that exist. Many people hear tall tales about methods to cause or prevent pregnancy that are speculative at best.  When searching for information on sex and pregnancy, it is crucial to separate scientific truth from anecdotal “evidence.”

Contraception Neglect

Many people who do have knowledge of and access to forms of birth control still fail to use them. In fact, 54 percent — more than half — of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. result from women who do not use any kind of contraception while sexually active. Therefore, this is one of the leading causes of unplanned pregnancy in the United States.

With contraceptives so widely available, how do accidental pregnancies happen? Although condoms and birth control are by far the most effective ways to prevent pregnancy during sex, people may neglect to use them for the following reasons:

Myth: “Birth control isn’t safe.”

Fact: While generally safe for healthy adults, the birth control pill does have potential side effects. However, there are other types of contraception that can be used instead.

Myth: “Contraception is too expensive.”

Fact: There are affordable options that will allow people to practice safe sex. Some locations offer birth control at reduced costs, and some health care plans cover part or all of the expenses.

Misuse or Malfunction of Contraception

Contraception is only effective if it is used correctly — but even then, it is not foolproof. More than 41 percent of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. occur among women who inconsistently or incorrectly use contraception. This is why it’s so important that both men and women who use a form of birth control understand exactly how to use it before having sex. Otherwise, when they later ask, “How did I accidentally get pregnant?” they will have to point to their failed family-planning method.

There are a few misconceptions when it comes to the use of contraceptives, and they often end up being the cause of unwanted pregnancy:

Myth: “My birth control will still work if I miss a few days.”

Fact: The efficacy of birth control drops sharply if not used as recommended. Individuals using birth control should follow the instructions provided for them by their healthcare provider. Women who miss a day on the birth control pill should take it as soon as they remember and then resume their normal schedule.

Myth: “Contraception works 100 percent of the time.”

Fact: Sometimes, unintended pregnancies occur even when the people involved took the necessary precautions. While some people believe that unplanned pregnancy is only the result of carelessness or irresponsibility, the truth is that it can happen to anyone.

How to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy

The only surefire way to prevent pregnancy is to not have sex. But abstinence-only education is not sufficient or realistic — in fact, it can even be dangerous. When young people are taught that abstinence is the only option, they never learn all of the ways to get pregnant accidentally — and, more often than not, find themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy when they eventually do have sex.

When used correctly, standard contraception is 90 to 99 percent effective. Condoms are shown to be 98 percent effective, and the birth control pill is 99.7 percent.  By pursuing proper sex education and promoting the proper and regular use of contraception, every individual can play a part in minimizing unintended pregnancies.